For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Quiet Sunday Read

While I continue to dig out of the 'Great Flood of 2014' in my home, I found this article from the Hartford Courant which talks about wagering in Connecticut.  I bring it to your attention because the story starts with Charter Oak Park, one of the nation's best race tracks located in Hartford.

Racing resumed this week at Harrah's in Chester this weekend.  Was the track fixed?  Who knows?  What we do know is all the drivers are back.  Unless they got private assurances that the track has been fixed, they are fools for continuing racing there; any mishap which occurs at this point is on the drivers'.

A letter to HRU this week says the PETA issue is overblown.  People get treated with medicine to improve their lives all the time, so what is wrong with a vet giving a horse medicine to improve their lives?  There is a big difference.  Let's start with the obvious answer; the human gives his consent for treatment with these medications.  I have yet to see a horse give their consent to treatment.  Secondly, a person can choose to live with the pain, take time off and improve albeit slowly, or chose those medications.  A horse has no choice and while the best path of treatment may be rest, the horse has no option but be given medication.  The so-called idea of benevolent medicating of the horse is really a question of getting the horse back on the track faster when rest or being retired is the better option for the horse.

Foiled Again wins once again in the Levy.  Why don't they call the Levy Series the Burke series as he won for the second week in a row three of four legs of the race.  The Levy is a perfect example of how Super Trainers, legitimate or not are killing the sport as a wagering game.  Yes, it is the owners who choose their trainers and in a business sense being able to levitate to a trainer of your choice makes perfect sense but when your survival, with slots or not, depends on the end user (the gambler) your choice of  trainers may help kill the sport.  Something needs to be done.  Why can't other trainers compete with these Super Trainers.  I know some will say pharmaceuticals, and there may be a bit of truth to it but it can't be the whole story.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saturday Briefs

We have learned by the on-going attempts in Iowa and Florida, all about decoupling; allowing the casino part of a racetrack to continue to operate while ceasing racing operations.  Now in Arizona, we learn about a new flavor of decoupling, allowing a track (greyhound) to cease racing but remain open as a simulcast center.

If passed, the bill in Arizona will allow for the Tuscon Greyhound track to continue operating as an off-track wagering location without racing the statutory 100 days of live racing.  While in theory the track could race, say 50 days of racing, odds are the track will turn off the lights around the track and just continue taking bets on other track's races.

Uncoupling is going to become an ominous word in pari-mutuel racing.  Time to get used to it.

Driver Jim Morrill Jr. has been banned from Pocono Downs without any explanation given.  It's not only the Meadowlands which uses exclusion rights.

Dave Briggs for HRU, talks about the PETA video and what it means for racing.  Briggs is absolutely correct in that a new mindset is needed; people need to stop dealing with those who abuse our majestic horses.  Being how owners seem to flock to the super trainers, I wish I could be confident our participants are ready to take the steps necessary; sadly I can't.  As they say in Missouri, 'Show Me'.  I still think federal intervention is necessary.

Thanks to G.g Myers for drawing my attention to Odgen Mills Phipps' response as representing  The Jockey Club as Chairman regarding the said video.  Briggs and Phipps are pretty much in sync.  Let's see which breed moves faster to eliminate such behavior.

Finally, I love horses with unique colors and there is one training at the Meadows called Fancy Sierra Star, currently registered as being non-standard as her second damn wasn't a standardbred.  Take a look and see why I am attracted to this lady.

Just a reminder, the USTA Annual Meeting's General Session will be available via live streaming starting tomorrow (Sunday) at 12:30pm.  You can catch all the proceedings from the USTA website.

And The Floods Came....

Right from above, the condo unit above mine to be specific.  Having been away a few days (Thank you Joe for your column), there are a few things to catch up with.  I may not be posting as much as there will be things to tend to with the 'Great Flood of 2014'; it's only great if you are effected, but I will do my best to keep posting interesting and insightful posts.

As you are all aware, Cat Manzi has retired from driving, and has decided now that he has grown up to train standardbreds, getting them ready to race.  Of course, the decision as to when to retire is up to the driver, but quite honestly, I am glad he has put his whip away and is moving away from driving.  Cat has no fear and has recovered from accident after accident only to bounce back but you couldn't help but wonder if he  kept on driving if it would get to be one accident to many.

While Cat is in the Hall of Fame, truth is fans outside of the New York - New Jersey area  really don't know him that much as he has basically stayed local since starting his career at Monticello Raceway before taking on Freehold, Meadowlands, and Yonkers Raceway.  Cat's biggest influence at the Meadowlands was during the early years but realistically, he was a half mile track driver.  That's not a knock on Cat and he has gone up against some very good  drivers in his career.  When at Freehold, there was no better driver in rating a horse on the front end so I loved it when I backed Cat and his horse was on the front end; it seemed like you were destined to collect.

Anyway, as Cat moves on to his next phase of life, I hope he is recognized in some way at the tracks he made his name at; a chance to give the fans a chance to say 'good bye' to a quite unassuming driver.  A class act all the way.

When is racing going to learn that we need to stop races when accidents take place?  Thursday night at Flamboro Downs is a perfect example of why we need to do it.  By know you likely are aware of the accident at Flamboro where a horse got up and raced without a driver the wrong way up the track and sure enough, we had a collision which required the two horses involved in the accident to be euthanized

I know tracks and horsemen don't want to lose their commissions by cancelling a race (which they ended up doing by declaring the race a 'no contest'), but are we that hard up that we are willing to risk the llives of horses and others when an accident occurs?  What we should do is if the accident occurs less than a half mile in the race, is stop the race and have the horses return later in the evening.  If the race went past the half, then declare the race a 'no contest' and divide the purse money among those horses still racing when the accident occurred..

Tragedy was averted yesterday at Saratoga Raceway and Casino with an early morning barb fire when people on track managed to rescue all 15-20 horse in the barn.  Luck was with them as none of the horses were hurt.  A  huge shout out to everyone who helped in rescuing the horses but it should be noted this was an older barn, one without a fire sprinkler system.  I know they are expensive. but no public barns should be without a sprinkler system.  The cost is expensive, but how much is it to to replace all the horses who may be lost in a fire?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Mixed Results For Stallions Coming Out Of Retirement

These days many hit what was traditionally considered retirement age only to  find they need to keep bringing home a paycheck, right into their 70s, 80’s—90’s even. Others do retire but run out of money at some point and need to find a part time job. Well, for reasons that generally have to do with earning capacity, fertility and quality of production many of today’s stallions are coming back for a second act on the racetrack, and the results are mixed.

Archangel, who received a breeding exemption from Jeff Gural due to breathing issues after his three-year-old campaign, is apparently being prepped for a comeback. It’s a matter of simple economics. The now five-year-old, who won the Yonkers Trot and the Empire Classic, attracted 42 mares last year. His stud fee was $4,000 so he grossed a maximum of $168,000--unlikely. Twenty-five aged trotters earned more than that last year, including Zooming, Watkins and Hesgotlegs. It’s a safe assumption that Archangel would get less popular until his progeny hit the track and prove themselves, so his connections decided to unretired him.

The same thing happened with Broad Bahn, who also stood in New York. He had a higher profile than Archangel, having won the Hambletonion and his division, but they weren’t exactly lining up to spend $7,500 to book their mares to him. He was nominated to the top tier stakes for aged trotters in NA last year but wound up being sold to Europeans. New York is a tough market for marginal trotting stallions: Crazed was relocated to Pennsylvania, where his get sold like cassette players, and Cash Hall is now located in the new Mecca—Ohio.

The premier sons of Art Major are taking it on the chin in this regard. Hypnotic Blue Chip was retired to stud in November, 2011, after falling short of the $175,000 mark. He stood at Fashion Farms in Pennsylvania for $5,000. It wasn’t exactly an approved mares only situation: HBC attracted just four of them. He came back to the track in 2012 and earned almost $200,000. Last year he won twice in five starts for $26,000. He has one open win at the Meadowlands this year in five starts and has earned almost $30,000. It’s obvious that racing is his only option at this point. And another paternal brother, Art Professor, was touted as a great stallion prospect at the January Mixed Sale. Look out.

Nine-year-old Santanna Blue Chip, another struggling son of Art Major, got mares but his only hit was Windsong Jack. He was standing for $4,000, and that was reduced to $3,000; the next step was back to the track. Last week he finished out against NW8 at 23/1 from the rail. He has one win in eight starts and has earned $7,500. He hasn’t earned a dime in his four 2014 starts. He was no all-time great but he did win the BC and the Governor’s Cup and he earned 1.6 million. The top son of Art Major, nine-year-old Art Official, hasn’t come back to the track yet but his fee has been lopped in half since he started in 2010 and he’s now in last chance Ohio.

Six-year-old Up The Credit, who won the NA Cup as well as a split of the SBSW and the Simcoe, could barely get around the track in the Matron at season’s end. His connections announced that he would breed and race in 2011. His stud fee was set at $5,000. UTC stood at Seelster Farms, but to say his career as a stallion has been conducted under the radar is to engage in marked understatement. No son of Western Terror has done anything in the stallion ranks. He was back for the 2012 Molson Pace, but he looked awful. He was winless in eight starts, earning $42,000. Last year he only won twice—one of them a lifetime best :48.3-- in 24 outings, but he earned $88,000. He has made two unsuccessful starts this year.

Six-year-old Foreclosure, who was born Down Under, went from Peter Heffering to Richard Young to the Burke Brigade. He was very good for the latter in late 2012 but apparently had issues so he was retired to Sugar Valley Farm in Ohio, where he stood for $3,000. But it was back to the races last year as he earned $34,000 in nine starts.

Daylon Magician, who won the CTC and an O’Brien at three, failed his fertility test, then later on, after resuming his racing career, he apparently passed his fertility test. He made 12 starts in 2012, earning more than $300,000, but he didn’t race at all last year. Daylon has started five times in opens at the Meadowlands this year and has one win, earning $35,000. He has the potential to make more money racing this year than he would as a marginal stallion.  Winning Mister is another millionaire trotter who had to abandon that siring life. Although he set track records at the three Pennsylvania tracks, the Earl Rowe, Oliver and Reynolds are his only open stakes wins. He was retired at the end of the 2012 season, in which he earned about $320,000. He was placed at Linwood Farm in Pennsylvania and his stud fee was set at an overly optimistic $8,000. That was dropped to $4,500 in no time. Winning Mister was back on the track last year, making just four starts at The Meadows. He had one win, over NW9500L5.

Dali, winner of the Wilson and Niatross in 2007, is doing a double in Ontario this year. The son of Real Artist, who has been away from the track for three years, starts against NW28L5 at Mohawk tomorrow night. He was standing in Indiana for $3,000, and his small test crop was promising. This year he is priced at $2,000. While his fellow nine-year-old Santanna has already failed as a stallion and has nothing to fall back on, Dali has more options.

Returning to racing after failing at stud is not a new thing. Duke Rodney, who was retired as number three behind Su Mac Lad and Speedy Scott on the all-time earning’s list, and ultimately proved to be a failed stallion, resumed his trotting career in 1965 at age seven after a year of stud duty in New York. He was raced and bred throughout his career. Harlan Dean was brought out of retirement at age seven that same year by Del Miller, when he had a crop going to the sales. Seven-year-old Wishing Stone will apparently do a double this year. He stands for $5,000 in New Jersey—shouldn’t be too busy. The eight-year-old Credit Winner stallion, Calchips Brute is doing the same. He stands in New Jersey for $3,500—the next Ohio? He has one win in seven starts this year. Does losing in the Yonkers open every week enhance a stallion’s career? Calchip’s Brute represents the downside of dual-duty.

As the breeding market continues to shrink we'll see more of this. And while returning to the track can’t be quantified as an unmitigated success for any of these horses,  it is working out to some degree for Hypnotic Blue Chip, Daylon Magician and Up The Credit. On the other hand, coming out of retirement has not proven successful for Santanna Blue Chip, Winning Mister and Foreclosure. We’ll just have to wait and see how rewarding it is for Archangel and Dali.

Joe FitzGerald

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Wales Report - Keeping Up With Share The Delight

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know I was a big fan of Share The Delight (STD) in the States when he raced here.  It was decided to send STD to auction where he was sold and exported for stud duty in Wales.  After doing a little research, I found out he was standing at Brywins Stud where I contacted Ms. Sarah Thomas, a representative for the breeder and received an update on how Share The Delight and his off-spring were being received.

STD's first crop has reached the age of two and while the plans were to see how his off-spring were doing during the racing season, I decided to check in early to see how STD's first crop were doing thus far in their preparations for the upcoming racing season.  Thanks to Ms. Thomas who provided the following report, here are comments by some of the trainers who are breaking and training STD's first crop.

KENTUCKY ROCKET (colt, out of Kentucky Heat [White Heat])- report from Emma Langford, daughter of trainer David Langford
Kentucky Rocket in training.

Kentucky Rocket in training.

Ronnie is brilliant, like a lamb; when he's not eating he's sleeping. When he's working it’s like he's been here and done it all before, nothing fazes him. Good solid gait to him considering his size (currently 14’2hh). Doing everything right at the moment. He'll race this summer....entered in every 2yr old race going apart from one in Scotland [trainer is based in south Wales].

BRYWINS MONET (colt, out of Art Connection [Artsplace]) & CAVENDISH (colt, out of Ayr Quality [House Of Cards])– report from trainer Andrew Cairns
I broke him (Brywins Monet) and turned him away as he was growing too quickly. I also broke another Share The Delight colt (Cavendish), they were both very good gaited and good attitudes. Cavendish was small but strong, a real nice colt though.
Brywins Monet is unlikely to race this summer but should come out as a 3yo. Cavendish has returned to his owner but may yet race this summer.

REAL DELIGHT (filly, out of Real Deal [Rustler Hanover]) – report from trainer Rhys Evans
She's a pretty nice filly, got a bit of an attitude sometimes. She's not the biggest but she’s built like a tank. She literally is a tank, genuinely strong too, doesn't just look it.
Broke in pretty easy and she'll be going to most of the 2yr old races, Breeders Crown, Sire Stakes, Little Welsh Dragoness, Vincent Delaney Memorial (in Ireland) and Tir Prince hopefully.

LLWYNS DELIGHT (colt, out of Bon Sian [Master Scoot]) & BRYWINSSTARDELIGHT (filly, out of Sweet Baby O [Northern Luck]) – report from Kayleigh Evans, partner of trainer Michael O’Mahony
We broke in [Llywns Delight] a brother to Bon Jasper [FFA class horse, winner of a Crock of Gold heat at Amman Valley]. He was going nice. He was small but nicely proportioned, from where he was last year I think he'd make a 2 year old [for racing].
We have one [Brywinsstardelight] in at the minute that's leaving on the weekend, a filly out of Sweet Baby O. She's unlikely to race as a 2 year old as she's a little bit weak and growing still. She’s a bit leggier and struggled a bit more with pacing.

BRYWINS VINCENT (colt, out of Vociferous [Dragons Lair]) – report from Laura Price-Davies, owner and wife of trainer Jaimie Davies
Vinnie broke up really good, no problem, paces like a dream and is now in training and all is going good. Vinnie’s still a full horse and we hope to keep him that way as long as he stays manageable. He’s got a lovely playful nature, easy to do anything with.

So it looks like we will have some STDs to watch and report on from the summer campaign.  I look forward to seeing how they make out once they meet the starter.  I'm sure I won't be the only one as most of the time the first crop sets the tone for the stallion's reputation.

Vets as Trainers vs. Vets as Vets

With the Triple Crown coming up, it is almost impossible not to talk about thoroughbred racing when it comes to racing in general.  Bill Finley has a column for ESPN which talks about Effinex, a horse trying to make it to the Kentucky Derby on hay, oats, and water; more specifically without using Lasix.  The manager of the stable which houses Effinex is Dr. Russell Cohen.  Cohen does okay as a vet but he is not raking in the dollars because he treats horses to cure, not to enhance the chances of a horse winning a race.  Obviously, stables which chose chemical war fare when it comes to racing obviously are not going to select Dr. Cohen as a vet.

Lasix, one of the popular drugs is given to horses that bleed.  I don't call for Lasix to be banned (at this time) because something needs to be done to make sure these horses don't end up in a feed lot. The problem is racing (and a lot of America) rather treat the symptoms than cure the problem.  How do you cure bleeding?  You recognize it is an undesirable trait which you don't want in a horse and as a result, you don't use that horse for breeding.  As a South African study shows, bleeding is hereditary so you need to avoid breeding those horses.  You breed only non-bleeeders and eventually you will have a hardier horse that doesn't bleed.  When you get to that point, then you outlaw Lasix.

Greyhound racing is another step closer to being uncoupled from the casinos in Iowa and then shut down.

Some thoughts from Jeff Gural's Q&A in Canada:  It should be mandatory that 5% of all slot revenue go into marketing;  forget about lottery wagers such as the V75 as there is not enough handle in racing to support it; successful race meets are short meets indicating tracks like Saratoga (TB), Keenland, and Del Mar; while Gural made arrangements for more racing on television, the Pennsylvania races are questionable since the PHHA doesn't want to cut purse about $50 a race to pay for it.  If you want more information about what Gural said as well as PC leader Tim Hudak, you can check out Darryl Kaplan's tweet feed here.

As much as I would love to see Atlantic City hobbled more after what they have done to racing in New Jersey, the move to restore the original interpretation of the American Wire Act which would outlaw online gaming (not horse racing) even where it is presently occurring is a bad idea.  People have and will continue to find ways to wager on online casino games whether legal or not so at least by having the states regulate the sites will prevent underage gambling, ensure the integrity of the games, and payment of winnings.  And yes, the state may as well collect taxes on these companies which they can't from off-shore companies.

Of course, this bill has a backer, Sheldon Adleson, who is an owner of brick-and-mortar casinos globally, including Las Vegas.  Obviously he has his own reasons for supporting this bill which are obvious; self-interest.  Whether this bill goes anywhere remains to be seen (the 'experts' say no) but it is sure to get some people sweating bullets, including those executives in Atlantic City.  Good, for once let them feel what it is like to be in racing.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Monday Briefs

On part 2 of a Trot Radio interview, Jeff Gural talks about the problem racing has regarding slot money; the feeling it is an entitlement which will keep on coming.  In this interview, Gural asks the one question which will allow states to get out of continuing these subsidies.  Listen here for the question of death.

We are a month away from the finals of the George Morton Levy Memorial and Blue Chip Matchmaker series at Yonkers, which is also the start of HANA Harness' 2014 Grand Circuit 'Shoot-Out' Handicapping Challenge sponsored by The Hambletonian Society, DRF Harness, Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment, Northfield Park, Tioga Downs, and Vernon Downs.  The contest has a brand new format this year as some of the minor stakes which tend to draw historically short fields have been dropped and the handicappers will be able to pick their spots as to where to wager on any of the Grand Circuit races that night.  To see who the handicappers are as well as the rescues they are playing for, why not check out this link?

The USTA Annual Meeting begin Sunday and one again will be broadcast live over the web.  It is always interesting to hear what is going on at the USTA and how it may impact racing.  If you can't catch them live, the USTA tends to archive them for later viewing.

Negotiations between Monticello Raceway and the MHHA supposedly have hit an impasse with neither side willing to budge on the key issue of the slot subsidy cap.  Now the horsemen are beginning to realize the way around their issues regarding the law which caps revenue at 2013 levels is by going to the legislature and attempt to get the law changed instead of negotiating a work around with the tracks.  I don't know if they will be successful, but I could have told them that this was the way to attempt to address the issue, not by withholding your signal and seeing your purses get severely cut.  Of course, the question here is with the horsemen and track reaching this point, how do they save face and end this confrontation which shouldn't and never needed to happen?  This is what happens when you get to be the guinea pig for others when it comes to dealing with a contentious issue.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Takeaway From the PETA Video

So the weekend has passed and the thoroughbred industry is working to control the fallout out from the PETA investigation of the stable of Steve Asmussen and his now former second trainer Scot Blasi.  Unfortunately, this is not over as PETA is expected to reveal more footage just before the Kentucky Derby.

For those who have yet to see the video and desire to, here it is.

From the feedback of the New York Times article and the PETA video, one thing is clear.  While many of the practices highlighted are 'legal', many find them distasteful if not unethical, bordering or crossing the line of animal abuse.

So based on the reaction thus far, can we draw any conclusions for harness racing?

People find physical abuse of horses unacceptable.  If this is the case, how much longer can racing support the use of whips with regards to horses?  Sure, racing in many states has restricted the use of of whips but by the nature of harness racing, the whips must be long to reach from the cart.  Nothing can be done with regards to the size of the whip but the use of the whip must be further restricted if not outright banned; fines for infractions must be much more severe, possibly to include days in addition to fines.  I would suggest a committee be formed with regards to how we can phase-in whip free racing.

The foot must remain in the sulky.  Kicking horses is verboten as far as the public is concerned.  This means 'booting', having the foot brush the horses' hocks, or outright kicking has to stop.  Even if you are a firm believer in there is no pain to the horses by kicking; if it looks ugly, it is ugly.

Granted, a minor factor is I would get rid of tattoos on the neck of the horse and instead replace it with micro-chipping.  Tattoos look like the horse is being treated as property to be done with as pleased where if the practice is changed and tattoos are replaced with a microchip, the horse would look like a majestic animal instead of a piece of property.  A scanner would be all that's necessary to identify a horse for a race.

The toughest items would be dealing with the medication issue.  Harness racing doesn't need a video such as the PETA one made about it.  The industry needs to have a real heart to heart discussion about the role of medications and supplements.  Obviously, performance-enhancers need to be eliminated from the sport, but the role of maintenance medications and supplements needs to be questioned.  Can we go back to the days of hay and water or do we continue to routinely pre-race horses with supplements and the like to get an advantage over the others?  I don't pretend to know the specific answer to the question but we don't need a video showing every performance enhancement being given to horses routinely.

So while harness racing has escaped he gaze of PETA in this go around, it doesn't give the sport an excuse to ignore what is happening for sooner or later, either through association or a separate investigation, the eyes of the public will be looking at harness racing.  The time to address problems is before hand, not after the fact.

Disclosure Statement Reviewed

It has been a long time since I published my disclosures for this blog.  The most current version of my disclosures is available here for your review at any time.  Also, on the blog page there is a link to the disclosures..

General Information: This is not a handicapping/gambling blog. There are times I will handicap certain races (and accompanying race cards) I feel are of importance. At times, other race cards may be handicapped in an effort to show support for a particular track (usually because they are making an effort to reach out to race fans) or just because I feel like providing selections, but the main purpose of this blog is to discuss issues facing the standardbred industry from the view of a race fan. One should not have an expectation of this site providing handicapping selections on a regular basis. If you are looking for handicapping selections on a regular basis, there are plenty of other sites to obtain them.

About my Selections: While I consider myself a good handicapper (a subjective opinion), my selections are not guaranteed. My selections are often made a couple of days before the actual day of the race and reflect my opinion as to who will win a particular race; it does not account for late changes. Do not confuse handicapping with gambling. A good handicapper does not mean a person is a successful gambler. Gambling involves money management and a good gambler does not wager on every race and at times will not wager on the best horse in a race in an effort to get value for their wager. I have not and will not call myself a good gambler.

Just because I have posted my selections does not mean I will wager on them. I enjoy handicapping and sometimes it is just enough to see how my selections would have done if I played them. Sometimes, I will wager on a different horse (late changes, odds too high or low, etc.). That being said, I put a good faith effort when I make my selections. I handicap the races as if I was going to be putting my own money down on my picks; I will never deliberately pick a horse to win, knowing I will bet on another one.

Errors can be made when I post my selections. I cannot accept responsibility for errors in my postings.

Selections are for Entertainment Purposes Only (Disclaimer):My selections are for entertainment purposes only. You may wish to compare my selections with your selections or to get a different perspective. Selections are not warranted and no responsibility is taken for selections posted. Posting of selections should not be construed as an inducement to wager.

Please remember if you decide to wager, you should wager on your own selections and only through legal channels. Consult local laws in your jurisdiction before wagering. Underage gambling is illegal and is not encouraged. If you have a gambling problem, do not gamble;there are resources to help you in the event you do have a gambling problem.Remember, you can eat your gambling money but never gamble your eating money.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Must Read Article and Barriers to Justice

Atlantic Columnist Andrew Cohen wrote an article about the alleged Asmussen Affair, but from a different angle.  Instead of focusing his story on the alleged perpetrators, Cohen looks at the people in the industry who allow such behavior to continue.  It is a must read.

The article applies to thoroughbreds, but for the most part it can and does apply to the standardbred industry.  Where there may be a difference (I admit I don't know the mindset of those in thoroughbred industry)  is with regards to the acknowledgement there is a medication problem.  There are leaders in the industry who are looking to find the most efficient way to detect new and existing medications; Jeff Gural has taken testing for illegal substances to Hong Kong.  There are horsemen associations which have made grants to buy testing equipment or fund research to come up with ways to catch the crooks.  This doesn't mean I don't think the Feds should get involved; they should.  But it can't be denied there are those in harness racing actively looking to catch those cheaters.

Quite honestly, one of the biggest problems any form of racing has are the rights conferred upon the accused and the unwillingness to boot any but the most abusive cheats out of  the sport; call it plea bargaining or disinterest by racing officials.  I am not saying a person should not be able to defend themselves against accusations, but they are given too much leeway when it comes to abusing the system to stall justice at every turn.

How come driving a car is a privilege and not a right but being a participant in racing is a right and not a privilege?  There is something wrong when judges worry more about someone keeping their job instead of the damage they are inflicting on their employers and customers (the bettor).

Yes Cohen is right, but I wish he would address in his next article how the judicial system is set up to defend the cheats to the point that those who would do battle against them rather lock themselves up in a closed room, screaming and pulling their hair out.  Until the law is changed to put the rights of everyone in proper perspective, this nonsense will continue.

For a different spin on the subject, here is an essay from a horsewoman who welcomes PETA's involvement.  She correctly points out you can't stop with racing; there are other disciplines of equestrian sports which need to be followed.

For those who don't care for Jeff Gural's use of exclusion rights, Ray Paulick wishes there was someone like him in thoroughbred racing.

An Endorsement of the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act of 2013

In case you haven't seen it, here is the letter PETA has sent out in conjunction to the sting on the Steve Asmussen stable at Churchill Downs and Saratoga Racetrack.  For PETA, it is a rather tame letter, their main goal is the passage of the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act of 2013.  Only at the end of the letter does PETA suggest people decide if they wish to patronize horse racing.

While the long term desire of PETA is to outlaw horse racing (something I don't support), I support the passage of the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act.  It is clear that racing has been unable to prevent the abuse of medication when it comes to race horses nor is it able to rid the respective breeds of those trainers who continue to flaunt the rules.  With policing by the U.S. Anti-doping agency, the cheats will be assured of long suspensions and being banned from horse racing for subsequent violations.  As long as the cheats are able to continue to game the existing system, the safety of both horses and participants remain at risk and leaves horse racing with a bad feeling for the betting and general public.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Some Random Thoughts for a Sunday Morning

News reports indicate that Pennsylvania may require horse owners to pay for drug testing.  Many people would argue that drug testing is the purview of the racing commission so they, the racing commission should pay for it.  However, if trainers weren't cheating, there would be no need to have drug testing.   Yes, some honest people will now be required to pay for drug testing, but as I learned in first grade, life is not fair and if the few cheats cause the problem, everyone has to suffer the consequences.  Maybe once the innocent parties have to pay for drug testing, then maybe the innocents won't keep their mouth shut when they see someone cheating.

What is there to say about Foiled Again?  The 10 year old pacer picked up where he finished his 9 year old career, in the winners circle after winning the first leg of the George Morton Levy Memorial Pace in his seasonal debut.  Some people are probably wishing a horse like Foiled Again was intact, but it is the geldings which provide racing with their long term heroes.  Foiled Again is a hero and here's hoping to see many more victories in 2014 from the ageless wonder.

While it wasn't the Levy this week, Shoobee's Place, one of the horses driver Joe Bongirorno was told to race conservatively last week won in his first start back at the Old Hilltop in a non-winners of $18,000 in the last six starts.  SP went off a second choice and won the race, paying $7.10.  Don't be surprised if Shoobee's Place tries the big boys next week.

With the Levy at Yonkers this week, along with the big drivers, it figured Yonkers would eat the Meadowlands for dinner handle-wise, except for on thing; it didn't happen.  Yonkers handled $861,682 for their twelve race card while the Meadowlands handled a 'measly' $2,902,002 for their eleven race card with their no-name drivers.  Balmoral Park with Illinois' decimated racing scene handled a mere $1,201,281 for their thirteen race card.  Well, there is some consolation for Yonkers; they did manage to out handle Cal-Expo, the king of $3,000 claimers which drew only $743,213 for their thirteen race card.

News and Observations from Down Under

Chantal Sutherland Loses - Is probably the appropriate headline in North America for the Probuild Invitation Riders Monte contested yesterday at Tabcorp Park Melton.  The fact she didn't win the race really isn't surprising being she went againt 1.95-1 favorite Motu Young Jacob NZ (mile rate 2:02.5 over the good track for the 1720 meter race) who went an easy wire-to-wire victory, defeating Kyvalley Wrap (2nd) and Lysenko NZ (3rd, Sutherland) by 9.7 meters.  Sutherland was well respected in the mutuels, going of as second choice at $3.70-1.  It is interesting to note that Sutherland was given a warning for racing out of position at the start.  If you want to see the race, you can catch it here by clicking on this for Windows Media Player or here for QuickTime.

In the feature race at Melton, Keystone Del NZ  won the final of the $300,000 Great Southern Star Final in a mile rate of 1:56.5, defeating Stent NZ by half a neck at the wire.  Keystone Del NZ also won his eliminaiton earlier in the evening (1:56.6 mile rate).  The final may be seen here.

No doubt about it, program pages in North America are superior to what you get Down Under (of course, it may be a question of what you are used to) but there are two features they have in Australia that I do like.  One, is the in the results chart of each race (chart is actually a misnomer).  They have a column called Stewards' Comments which contain important information on each horse.  For example in the 1st race at Melton on Saturday, you see comments like these for horses in the race.  For the race winner, Mister Gunson, you see the following listed (abbreviations actually): "Fractious in score up, last chance in draw, gate speed, led, leader at bell, swabbed".  For The Bohemian NZ, it is noted: "1 out back 4 at bell, 3 wide late with trail".  Some track in North America have comments from the race charter, but they certainly don't go into such detail.

The other thing I like is the fact they publish the Stewards' Report for each race day in Australia.  It may take a day or two for the report to be available but the information listed may be helpful when handicapping future races.  For example, where are you going to see comments from anyone like this, "Rounding the home turn on the final occasion Wheres Bub shifted ground inwards and momentarily tightened the ground of Lohi Liz resulting in Lohi Liz contacting the red marker peg"?  How about this comment, "Cory Bell (It Is Ike) was questioned regarding his tactics in this event and in particular the reasons why he restrained from the start when the horse had gone forward from barrier 4 at its most previous start at Maryborough. Driver Bell reported that it was his intention to go forward from the barrier but as the start was affected horses to his inside began too well and he elected then to restrain in an attempt to take a position in the back straight. He was further questioned as to the reasons why he failed to move from the pegs in the back straight on the final occasion. Driver Bell reported that the horse was hanging out and when racing wider has a tendency to hit its knees. He felt had he have moved wider on the track approaching the 500m mark Lucindas Fella, racing to his outside, was tiring and he would have been forced to move to a three wide position and disadvantage his horse. He remained on the pegs before attempting to take a run in the home straight but again It Is Ike hung out against his efforts and proved difficult to drive. A warning was placed on the performance of It Is Ike and driver Cory Bell’s explanations were noted"?  The Stewards' Reports also include the issuing of fines and the results of hearings (justice is quick Down Under).  If you are trying to give horseplayers all the information possible, reports like this can be indispensable.

What were they thinking?  As in the United States, gamblers are concerned about the medication of race horses.  Therefore, imaging my surprise to see one of the big advertising billboards around the track at Tabcorp Park Melton was for a company Carbine Chemicals.  Really?  Further research shows that Carbine Chemicals produces horse supplements; innocent enough, but by advertising a 'chemical' company on your track certainly gives spectators reason to pause.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Horsemen, Don't be Out Gunned

The FSBOA had Joe Pennacchiorepresenting harness horsemen at the Florida House of Representative Select Committee on Gaming meeting this week which is considering pari-mutuel reform.  Pennacchio asked that harness racing be given equality with thoroughbred and quarter horse racing in that harness permit holders (Isle of Capri) be required to have a contact with horsemen in order to have casino gambling.  

The original bills HB 1033 and SB 1170, had language requiring a contract determining purses (and by default what percentage of slot revenue would go to harness horsemen) in order to have a gaming license.  Lobbyists for Isle of Capri had managed to get an amendment through which allows harness racing (pg 202-204) to be the only type of racing without such protection.  

From Mr. Pennacchio's statement (roughly the 18:00 mark), you can see how well Isle of Capri has taken care of them (sarcasm intented).  Harness racing now races for less purse money than they did before casino gambling came into being.  The racing facility is run down and for the most part closed and slot revenue is not shared with the horsemen under any contract.  Despite the way the harness industry has gone down hill in the state while the thoroughbred and quarter horse industry thrives, it just seems the harness horsemen get no assistance from the legislature.  It would appear the harness horsemen lack political support and are over matched when it comes to lobbying the legislature.  All the standardbred horsemen want is fairness, apparently something unattainable in the Sunshine State.

Fortunately, it appears this bill will go nowhere for now as the Governor has asked the legislature to apply the brakes to gaming legislation as he works on a new compact with the Seminole Indian Nation in Florida.  However, you have to wonder how they will be treated when gambling legislation comes up again.  It promises to be ugly.

Where has things gone wrong for standardbred interests in the state?  No doubt thoroughbred racing is king and quarter horse racing has support which makes things easier for them in the legislature but make no mistake, it takes cash and a political action committee to curry favor with legislators.  It may go against some people but the fact is campaign donations help legislators see your side of the story.  I have no doubt Isle of Capri lobbyists ran roughshod over standardbred interests in getting the legislation modified.  How else do you explain such an illogical decision?   Why shouldn't harness interests be treated the same as thoroughbred and quarter horse interests when it comes to allowing slot machines to operate?  Why is it okay for a contract required to be signed by the other two breeds but Pompano Park has the right to operate their slot machines without a purse agreement?  What is the difference?  Influence.

Let this be a lesson to horsemen and owners in other states.  Fund your PACs as much as possible because you can't show up when a bill comes up and expect favors.  You need to curry favor and distribute the campaign contributions before the need arises.  It's not secret Pennsylvania horsemen are successful in their lobbying efforts as they have been able to fight off (or minimize) raids on their slot contributions to their purse account..

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Hopes and Disappointment

Brock Milstein states he is dedicated to returning Northfield Park back to a top class racetrack now that the Rocksino (partnered with Hard Rock) has opened.  According to the article of the The Cleveland Plains Dealer, Milstein is working on a 'master plan' for harness racing.

Those of us who have watched the development of racinos have every right to be cynical as most tracks immediately sell out racing for the more profitable forms of alternative gaming.  That said, Milstein owns 80% of the stock in the operation so a racetrack operator controls the vast majority of the stock in the company.  Signs of commitment to racing are the fact there is a vibrant backstretch community, something lacking at most tracks these days; a strong simulcast audience; a state that still loves its harness racing.

Here is hoping that Brock Milstein is sincere, not another person who says one thing and then lets us down.

Which brings us to Monticello Raceway.  Remember the new racetrack that was going to be built at the new facility being built?  Well,  forget about it.  Last week Empire Resorts, the developer presented plans for the new entertainment complex and lo and behold, what was thought to be where the racetrack was going to be constructed is now a planned waterpark.  You say this is due to the dispute between raceway management and the MHHA?  Think again, if we are to believe Empire Resorts claims they have been working on the existing plans for at least two years.

Empire Resorts claims racing will continue at the old facility; the one where racing fans are taken back to the not so magical 1960's.  Even if the VLTs were to remain at the raceway, how many people would abandon the VLTs for a full functioning casino, leaving the casisno a ghost town.  In this case, the track may be helped by the 2013 contribution rate as the horsemen would be guaranteed that much of a subsidy.  However, the lack of a racetrack makes Empire Resorts just another bidder.  Failure to receive the gaming license would likely put Empire Resorts as well as the racetrack out of business, costing horsemen a place to race.

Somehow we take little comfort from the statement made by Empire Resorts, "We have been operating harness racing since 1958, and in any scenario remain committed to improving, supporting and operating harness racing, either at our new location if we are a successful bidder, or at the current Monticello Raceway."  Anyone who has attended the races at Monticello since the racino opened can  tell you how committed Empire Resorts has been (zilch).

Scarborough Downs has received the proverbial kick in the groin as the state Senate refused to pass the bill which would have allowed them to open a casino if approval was given in the town, negating the need to have a state-wide referendum.  If the threats of track management come to fruition, 2014 may be the final year of racing at Scarborough.

On the thoroughbred side of racing, it seems PETA had trainer Steve Asmussen in their cross-hairs and they hit gold as they have him on tape admitting he has had a jockey use a 'buzzer' on his horses to administer electric shocks, a practice not permitted in racing.  It should be noted this was not alleged to be done during actually racing.  PETA also has Asmussen and others admitting they had run a horse into the ground.  The horse died a year later, allegedly from colic.  

What does this mean, other than another black eye for racing?  It is hard to say being the video was edited so the argument could be made PETA made things look worse than they are.  However, admitting a horse was run into the ground and a buzzer was used on a horse is kind of hard to explain away, even if you use the editing argument.

The problem with this revelation is harness racing will get thrown into the same boat as the runners and criticized for it.  Other than that, it will be interesting to see if racing does anything to penalize Asmussen.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Second Tier Dilemna; Meadowlands Statement on Saturday Night

Pocono Downs reopens this weekend and the Meadowlands is feeling it already.  On Friday's card, the first three races consist of only six horse fields.  With another race of seven horses, four of the eleven races are grossly short of horses, making horrible wagering propositions.  Of the eleven races, only two races have full fields of ten.  Granted, this week is the last week of Thursday night racing, so the short fields may be addressed next week.

That being said, things were not helped when only twelve horses dropped in the box for the Horse & Groom series resulting in two fields of six horses.  I know the argument that if you pay to get in to a race you deserve to have your nose on the gate but this thinking is hurting not only the Meadowlands but tracks and horsemen all over as it creates races which many horseplayers will never touch.  From the gambling perspective, wouldn't it be better to have one great race to wager on instead of two races which most people won't touch?  Participants in the sport have to learn sometimes you need to take one for the sport.  Perhaps offering an incentive where horses starting from the second tier earn a 20% bonus on what they earn in the race will induce owners to be willing to have their horses start from the second tier or at least get drivers to race more aggressively from the back row.

We have discussed the unfortunate choice of words used on Saturday night's in-house racing show at the Meadowlands in this blog for a couple of days so it is appropriate to publish here a press release from the Meadowlands regarding the incident.  Let this be the final word.

Meadowlands Statement On Saturday TV Interview

East Rutherford, NJ - Last Saturday night at The Meadowlands driver Joe Bongiorno was replaced on two of his mounts after a pre-race interview in which he stated that his instructions from the owners of those horses were to race those two horses conservatively in anticipation of upcoming stakes.

The judges at The Meadowlands, after listening to the interview, felt that he should be replaced to protect the interests of those wagering on the races discussed. Protecting the integrity of the racing is their job description.

Drivers and other racing personalities that may be interviewed or post comments on social media are certainly not trained in the field. Mr. Bongiorno has said publicly that he did not state his intentions clearly in the interview. At twenty years of age, his media exposure is limited but his enthusiasm for racing and his integrity are unquestioned.

Experienced horseplayers are aware that there is no substitute for observing the actions taken by drivers during a race to determine if the horse was driven properly. The interview comments made by drivers are similar to the way the NFL discloses injuries, to provide interested parties with the most current and accurate information possible as well as adding a personal component to the broadcasts.

In this age of information saturation, as we navigate through the process of utilizing the various social platforms to our best advantage, there will be missteps. So long as wagering is an element of our product, those will be magnified. While this situation may be regrettable, it was dealt with in an objective and thoughtful fashion.

The Meadowlands considers both information and integrity vital components to the future success of harness racing. Our expectation is that any horse entered to race at The Meadowlands is racing to win every time.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Final Word on the 'Gaffe'

Derick Giwner of the DRF reports on the Bongiorno 'gaffe' and basically comes to the conclusion that 'there is nothing to see here'.  The one thing Giwner mentions which deserves highlighting is instead of the judges changing drivers on the two horses in question, the appropriate thing to be done would have been scratching the two; after all, are we to think the replacement drivers were going to go against the owner's/trainer's instructions?

Some people speculated Bongiorno would be having a visit with the judges after Saturday's interview.  I would certainly hope not for he did nothing wrong besides using a poor choice of terms.  If, and I mean IF, anyone should have a visit with the judges it should be the owners and trainer.  Even then, what would be done.  If you sanctioned every owner or trainer who said for whatever reason they wanted their horse to go an easy mile (or 'on the helmet'), I dare say 85% of the owners/trainers would be sanctioned at any track.  An easy mile doesn't mean the driver shouldn't try to win if circumstances presented itself, it means they don't want the horse gutted or used hard in the race,

That being said, if the judges want to go after anyone, it should be those looking to get money off their card so they can race in an easier condition or class.

The parents/guardians of driver Anthony Coletta have filed their expected lawsuit against Harrah's and various subsidiaries regarding the accident which has left Coletta in a condition requiring assistance to live.  In the complaint, it is alleged Harrah's has been aware for two years that the track is unsafe but didn't want to spend the time or money to fix the track.

If true, it wouldn't surprise me as Harrah's races because they needed to to get a gaming license.  Being it has been known the track would get out of the racing business if they could, not spending money on the track would fit the pattern.  Short of a settlement, this case will go on for a long time.  As for Anthony, it is doubtful he will regain any semblance of his life prior to the accident.

If you think standardbred horsemen had a problem meeting an agreement in Illinois, take a look at the dispute between the Virginia HBPA and Colonial Downs.  There OTB offices which handle thoroughbred races have been closed for an extended period of time as the horsemen and track have a huge difference when it comes to race days.  The HBPA wanted a 28 day schedule over a seven week period and offered to pay $280,000 to the track for expenses while Colonial Downs wanted to race 12 days and was asking for $300,000 from the horsemen to race.  When they went to an arbitrator, the session lasted 45 minutes as Colonial Downs changed their offer to 6 days of racing and $500,000 from the horsemen.  At the next meeting of the VRC, a compromise of 21 days of racing will be discussed.  Failure to do a deal now may result in no thoroughbred meet in Virginia  this year.

What does this have to do with harness racing?  The track claims  they want to put on a quality meet where they can attract horses nationally.  Back in 2004, a $200,000 a day average purse account attracted nationally known horses and stables to Virginia.  In 2014, a $200,000 a day purse account will attract low end local horses.  Since there is no slot money, the only way to increase the per day purse account is to cut racing dates.  According to the track, it is a question of putting on a meet of national importance versus a meet of cheap VA bred horses.  It sounds a lot like what the Meadowlands and other harness tracks without slots have to face.

The track and standardbred horsemen have agreed to a 24 day meet this year with the specific calendar to be set by the track and horsremen.  The problem is if no thoroughbred meet occurs, will there be a track to race at?  My guess is things are dicey on that proposition which is why the Maryland horsemen have thrown a lifeline to Virginia horsemen by adding them to the preference list at Rosecroft Raceway.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Problems with Interviews

Saturday night's interview with Joe Bongiorno reveals the problems which may occur as a result of someone misspeaking.  Let me make it perfectly clear while Bongiorno may have misspoken, he did nothing wrong.  As he suggested in interviews which occurred afterwards, his choice of words may have been wrong.  That being said, those less familiar with racing may suspect something nefarious is occurring.

It becomes clear to this writer, if a track is going to do interviews where you are going to ask trainers or drivers about horses racing later on the card it should be mandatory for participants to undergo media training on what can be said and how it can be said to avoid having such problems in the future.  I am not suggesting such training should be about misleading those who listen (or read) such interviews, but the proper way to say it to make sure there is no misconstruing what the person is talking about.  For example, not to belabor the point, instead of saying "He will be racing in the Levy next week so the owners want me to race him conservatively", say something like "He has some big races coming up so we are hoping to catch an easy  trip tonight"; basically saying the same thing letting the listener learn the horse will not be used hard (though still try to win) so they may consider it in their handicapping but not saying anything which may be misconstrued.

However, regardless of what was said Saturday evening, it shows the downside of having these interviews and it has nothing to do with how something is said, but the disseminating of information.  For example, when drivers determine their pre-race strategy, they have an idea how each horse is going to race but must adapt their strategy once the gate opens.  If someone tips their hand before the race, the possibility is information may get back to drivers in that later race.  If you know how someone is planning to race their horse with relative certainty, it allows the other drivers to pre-plan their moves related to that horse ahead of time instead of keeping them guessing; making it easier for the other drivers to drive their races.  

Another issue is these types of interviews work against tracks trying to build on-track handle.  Let's face it, unless you are home or at the track sitting in front of a monitor, you are not going to get the same information at the track.  If you are sitting in the grandstand or clubhouse there is a good chance you will never hear the comments.  Hence, most of those at the track will be at a disadvantage.  If your on-track customers realize they are at a disadvantage by wagering from the track because they are not aware of the comments being said, those customers are going to play from home where tracks and horsemen will earn different a lower commission.  

It is not just oral communications which presents problems, social media such as Twitter often provides a feed from drivers sharing their opinions on upcoming drives.  I have no problem with discussing their drives for the night but there needs to be a cut-off time where drivers may no longer tweet,  Everyone has the option of following Twitter if they so desire, but someone at the track for an evening shouldn't have to be following twitter all night for any changes thus ruining the on-track experience.  If a track is willing to post the tweets on their television screens it is one thing, but if they aren't, no one should have access to late tweets.  I would suggest something like a rule indicating a driver or trainer may not tweet about a days card two hours before the first post.

Interviews and the use of social media are powerful tools for promoting the sport and providing handicappers important information, but there needs to be a way to distribute such information so everyone realistically has the same chance to acquire the information.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Truth Will Get You in Trouble

During the broadcast of the Meadowlands simulcast show last night, Wendy Ross interviewed Joe Bongiorno about his upcoming drives.  During the interview, when asked about two horses Shobee's Place and Code Word, Bongiorno mentioned these horses were heading to the Levy next week and the owners wanted the horses driven conservatively and he has to do what the owners want.  Well sometime after the interview, Bongiorno was removed from these two drives by the judges but was allowed to drive the remainder of races he was listed on.  (For the record Shobee's Place finished 4th and Code Word finished 8th with their replacement drivers).  More about this story in HRU.

What lesson has been learned here?  Likely Mr. Bongiorno has learned what not to say in an interview.  Being asked to drive conservatively doesn't mean not trying to win; it means trying to get an easy trip and if you can win great, but we want something left in the tank for the next race.  While in the ideal, each horse will be driven aggressively going for the win but we know that is not the case.  How many times in elimination races are horses driven conservatively to qualify for the final so there is plenty left in the tank for the lucrative final?

Quite honestly, I rather hear a driver be forthcoming and let the wagering public take those comments into consideration.  What probably happened here is at least one driver (and likely others) has learned not to be too forthcoming.  The horseplayer, as usual, looses out.

Time to Dump Claiming Races:  Dean Towers writes a column calling for the end of claiming races in harness racing in the latest edition of Harness Racing Update.  I have to agree with him.  I remember the days when you saw the same horse racing at at track for years, a rarity these days as you see more of these horses ending up in the Siberia of harness racing.  Rent a horse has ruined this sport.  It is time to go back to the point where owners know they are going to be in it for the long hall with a specific horse.

Not Just a Tournament, But a Recruiting Effort:  With the Levy series beginning next week, many of the Meadowlands reinsmen will be competing across the river at Yonkers Raceway.  So what does one do?  You have a promotion for drivers where they can win bonus money if they are the top driver of the week or one of the top five overall finishers at the end of the competition.  In one way it works great for the current driving colony.  It rewards their loyalty for staying at the Meadowlands on those Saturday evening, not only away from Yonkers but the Pennsylvania tracks opening.

But it is more than a tournament, it is a recruiting effort.  Some drivers at the smaller tracks may decide to take the opportunity to travel to East Rutherford on Saturdays to fill the void left by those driving at Yonkers.  Certainly, the possibility of winning bonus money will serve as an added inducement to make the trip to New Jersey.  Better yet, if a driver does well during these six Saturdays, they may consider taking a shot staying at the Meadowlands on weekends or have them think about a future move to the Big M.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

It's My Sandbox and I Get to Say Who Plays in It

An article in HRU calls for Jeff Gural to explain why certain trainers are being shown the door at the Meadowlands.  While ideally it would be great if that would happen, in the real world it is not practical as announcing why someone is being excluded exposes track ownership to possible civil action by the person being excluded.  The net result would be exclusion rights would be for all practical purposes extinguished, leaving those who would normally be excluded to continue to race.

Yes, the exclusion rule could be applied arbitrarily and someone could be ruled off for no good reason at all but it is the best tool tracks have without getting tied up in litigation.  If left to racing commissions to act on these individuals, it could be tied up with hearings and appeals for years.  An exclusion is in effect immediate.

Is it fair?  No.  Could an 'innocent' person be ensnared by the privilege of exclusion?  Yes.  Is it the best weapon harness racing has to deal with people who may be suspect?  Yes.  Is it sad that relying on property rights and 'It is my sandbox and I will say who gets to play in it" is the best way to keep the sport cleaner?  Absolutely.

Unfortunately, in this litigious society it is the way it is.

A deal to fund racing at the eight core tracks in Ontario is being finalized this upcoming week with some support being given to the remaining tracks which choose to operate.  How good a deal it is?  I will leave it to Canadian Bloggers more intimate with the going ons in Canadian Government and racing to opine on it.

One thing I will say is I talk how American racing would benefit from a centralized body controlling racing dates and wagering, the same model would probably be ideal in Canada as well.  While Ontario still is the crown of racing in the nation, racing is stable on Prince Edward Island, and Quebec is recovering from a near death blow, racing's future is less certain in the other Maritime provinces and out west.  A coordinated effort to promote racing throughout the nation would help stabilize the industry elsewhere.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Banishment Of P.J. Fraley And Access To Stakes Races

P.J. Fraley, who has reportedly been barred from participating at the Meadowlands, Vernon Downs and Tioga (HRU), joins two other high profile trainers, Lou Pena and Rene Allard, in Jeff Gural’s rendition of Siberia. Pena has pretty much fallen off the planet as he failed to make the top 50 on the trainers earning’s list last year, while Allard, who was banished in the spring,  finished fourth. Fraley was sixth on that list, finishing just above Linda Toscano and Bee’s trainer, Nifty Norman. He currently sits fourth, behind Ron Burke, Allard and Carmen Auciello.

Fraley worked for Noel Daley for nine years before setting out on his own in 2011/2012. His horses went from 55 starts and earnings of $190,000 in 2011 to 947 starts and earnings of 3.7 million in 2012. He trains primarily for Bamond Racing. Taking into consideration the fact that he’s relatively new to the trainer of record ranks, his record of fines and suspensions is pretty tame, with fines for going through the post while warming up, disturbing the peace and being late to the Lasix/detention barn. A $250 fine for an out of spec level of an authorized medication is the only other infraction listed on his USTA record. While Pena and Allard have engendered controversy right along, Fraley appears to be something of an outlier.

As the HRU piece notes, whether or not Fraley’s charges are allowed to race in stakes races they’re already nominated to at Gural’s tracks is a key question that hasn’t been resolved. Lou Pena is persona non grata at Yonkers Raceway but he has a horse racing right now in the Sagamore Hill Series. Obviously this would have a big effect on Fraley’s star pupil Anndrovette’s season. The three time division champ in the U.S. and Canada is as much an outlier as her trainer. She has banked in excess of 2.5 million dollars, while no other daughter of her seventeen-year-old sire, Riverboat King, has passed the $250,000 mark. If Fraley continues as her trainer, and the ban is all encompassing, she will not be able to race in the Artiscape, Lady Liberty, Golden Girls and Breeders Crown. She didn’t win any of those races last year, but seconds in the Lady Liberty and Golden Girls, and third place finishes in the BC and Artiscape certainly fortified her bank account.

Anndrovette, who was a principal in a 105-day suspension for Bamond’s former trainer Mark Kesmodel in 2011,  set herself apart in July with an eye popping 1:48 win in the Roses Are Red at Mohawk. This established a track, stakes and Canadian record for an older pacing mare. Another sit up and take notice mile from the Fraley barn came in December, when the then three-year-old Lis Mara colt Validus Deo, who also won an OSS Gold leg, went a big first over mile to beat Sweet Talkin Satin in 1:48.4 in a B-1/A-2 handicap at the Meadowlands. That’s a very fast mile for December.

Bamond is rich in aged pacing mares; they acquired the then four-year-old Artiscape mare, Shelliscape, at the end of September and had spectacular success with her in only three starts. She won the Allerage in the pouring rain at The Red Mile , with Norman listed as trainer, and also took the Breeders Crown Mare on a nasty night at Harrah’s. Fraley was the trainer of record for that one. Unlike Anndrovette, who is a Matchmaker mainstay, Shelliscape did not race in it last year, but she is staked to this year’s edition, which kicks off next week. Obviously Shellicape would be subject to the same restrictions on where she can compete as stablemate Anndrovette. Krispy Apple is another Fraley charge who is staked to next week’s Matchmaker. The six-year-old made the top ten on the aged mares earning’s list last year with a take of almost $250,000. The five-year-old Rocknroll mare, Rockaround Sue, is another from the Fraley barn staked to the Matchmaker, although she is currently off form at Yonkers.

Fraley’s Fat Mans Alley won a Yonkers open a couple of weeks ago over Dancin Yankee and Pan From Nantucket…..P H Supercam, winner of a Yonkers open in December, just won a WO25 at Yonkers….The then two-year-old Allamerican Native freshman, Jack Attack, won a $69,000 PASS race at Harrah’s last season….Supplemental Income was another freshman from this barn….Four Starz Roe was an open mare at Yonkers and in PA for Fraley last year.

I have no idea why Fraley was given the boot but between the quality of Bamond’s stock and the serious money Rene Allard invested at the sales, the question of whether or not these ostracized trainers are allowed to compete in stakes races at the tracks that have banished them is a sure bet to heat up in short order.
Joe FitzGerald

A Wake Up Call is a Comin'

Late yesterday, I posted a press release from the United Florida Horsemen regarding legislative hearings in Tallahassee regarding revamping the pari-mutuel law in the state.  If you think your slot revenue is sacrosanct, I strongly urge you to read the post again and as important, the comments posted.

Make no mistake, decoupling (not to be confused with uncoupling entries) is a threat to the horse racing industry nationwide if it gets approved in Florida as a precedent will be set for states with horse racing. If decoupling is approved in the Sunshine State you can expect efforts in other states to decouple the loss leader (horse racing) from the profit center (slot machines or in some states full casinos).

If approved in Florida, how long do you think it will be before Harrah's attempts to lobby Pennsylvania legislators to decouple racing from slots?  What about those states where gaming revenue is declining due to cannibalizing of their customer base due to casinos opening in neighboring states?  Don't you think as overall profits shrink or turn to losses they won't look to shed their loss leader (racing) in order to regain profit margins or profitability?

It is obvious racing can not depend on slots forever; the gravy train may be coming to an end sooner than you think..  Steps need to be taken to strengthen or revamp the racing product to make it more relevant to consumers of the 21st century,  One thing is clear, business as usual will not cut it.

Maybe the model used in France with PMU or in Sweden with ATG is needed though to form such a model it will be necessary to establish national racing compacts.  Perhaps it is the introduction of new types of wagers such as exchange wagering and fixed odds betting. Maybe the time has come to mix up racing with different distances and even RUS.

One thing is for sure, the days of each state is an island when it comes to racing must come to an end.  Racing needs to become a national product, looking out for the overall betterment of the sport versus New York vs. New Jersey vs. Pennsylvania.

News Item:  HRU reports that trainers PJ Farley and Alvin Callahan have been excluded from the Gural operated tracks, including the Meadowlands..

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Florida House Gaming Committee March 13 Meeting: United Florida Horsemen Statement

This is a press release from United Florida Horsemen, a group of quarter horse and thoroughbred interests in Florida (standardbred interests declined to be part of the group).  This press shows in Florida they are fighting 'decoupling' as it adoption threatens the entire racing industry.  Additional comments follow.   

March 13, 2014--United Florida Horsemen, a consortium of nearly 7,000 Florida Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred racehorse owners and trainers said about this morning’s Florida House Gaming Committee meeting:

“We look forward to continuing to educate our lawmakers on the billion-dollar economic impact of Florida’s internationally known horse racing industry.   We urge our legislators to seek the proper information on why decoupling would put our horsemen out of business—and their thousands of employees out of work.  

If Florida is truly open for business, we must focus on fostering the thousands of existing horse racing small businesses that are already here--as well as those looking to come to Florida--by ensuring that our full schedules of racing days remain intact.  This will promote the same investment and very economic impact that lawmakers are earnestly trying to create.

A brochure on the Florida horse racing industry's economic impact is attached.

For a video replay and meeting materials on this morning's meeting, click here:

In Iowa and Florida, there are attempts to decouple casinos from the racetracks.  While Iowa may be a unique enough situation that it may not have a national impact, should decoupling happen in Florida, expect the precedent to be set and watch other states attempt similar legislative changes.

On top of that, in West Virginia there is a proposal to change the mandatory commission paid to the racing industry to an annual appropriation in the budget where the legislature decides how much racing gets every year, if anything at all (look at New Jersey).

I expect racing interests to fight the good battle but racing's strategy can't be just slot revenue; it needs other strategies to keep the industry going.  Failure to have multiple strategies leaves racing a sitting duck.